Michael Flynn made some news this Memorial Day weekend. Not in a good way for a retired lieutenant general. Appearing at a “For God & Country” conference in Dallas that was associated with the nutty QAnon movement, Flynn was asked “why what happened in [Myanmar] can’t happen here.” The questioner, who called himself a “simple Marine,” was referring to the brutal military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government there in early February and and installed a junta that has killed over 800 people and detained thousands—and he was citing the Burmese coup as a positive example. People in the pro-Trump, Big Lie-embracing crowd cheered to show their desire for similar action in the United States. Flynn replied, “No reason. I mean, it should happen here.”
Twitter exploded. A former US Army general, a past head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Donald Trump’s first national security adviser (if only for a blink of an eye)—Flynn appeared to be calling for the violent overthrow of the US government by the military because Joe Biden was elected president. Flynn’s previous association with the paranoid and crazy QAnon-verse had spurred plenty of questions about him. But now he seemed to have gone full bonkers. Once the story hit that he had endorsed a military coup for the United States, he quickly claimed he had not said this and labeled the controversy “fake news.” That is, he lied. (Reminder: he pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents during the Trump-Russia investigation, and Trump fired him. Yet before leaving office, Trump pardoned Flynn.) And keep in mind that a major premise of the QAnon cult is that Biden’s election was a hoax and that Trump remains the legitimate president and will soon be returned (somehow) to power. Such a Trump restoration can only happen through means that violate the US Constitution. So by merely hobnobbing with the QAnoners as if they are a respectable crew, Flynn is honoring the view that a legitimate election can (and will) be overturned in a coup-like fashion.
Flynn’s remark drew much attention to the QAnonFest, where there were plenty of bizarre moments. Those included loony lawyer Sidney Powell stating that Trump would soon be reinstated as president and a new inauguration date has been set for him. Roger Stone’s social media adviser urged the hanging of Hillary Clinton. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) took the stage to downplay the 1/6 seditious attack on the US Capitol and then later posed for a photo with a prominent QAnon promoter. And a baseball bat signed by Flynn was auctioned off, with someone paying $8,000 for the item.
I was curious whether Flynn, Powell, and other speakers were paid to appear at the event, where general admission tickets were sold for $500 a piece. The conference was organized by a website called ThePatriotVoice.us, and the owner of the site is a fellow named John Sabal, who on the registration for the site listed his address as “10836, Philadelphia.” He is also known as “QAnon John.” In a March podcast interview—reported first by the Dallas Observer—Sabal noted that he was kicked off Facebook and Twitter and that he had 5,400 members in his Telegram group. He disclosed that he was trying to “rebrand to The Patriot Voice” and “transition away from certain words”—seemingly suggesting he was trying to distance himself from his QAnon identity. He proudly proclaimed he was a “Trump supporter from Day One.” Sabal reported that the conference had originally been envisioned as a cruise to Bermuda, but Bermuda authorities had blocked that.
During that interview, Sabal explained that Flynn and his “whole entourage…his whole family” would be attending all three days of the conference and “would be partying with us.” A V.I.P. package costing $1,000 would allow attendees to go to a private party the first night. “That’s priceless…You can meet Gen. Flynn and say whatever you like to him,” Sabal pointed out. Only 300 V.I.P. tickets would be available.
Sabal has eschewed fully embracing a public persona. In that podcast interview, he didn’t use his last name. And at the conference, he certainly did not seek publicity from the media, as journalists were expelled from the event. But it wasn’t hard to track him down. So on Monday—as the Flynn news was still pinging about—I called his number. He answered, and before I could identify myself, he demanded to know who I was. I told him my name and informed him I am a reporter with Mother Jones, and…click. Sabal hung up. I called back. No surprise, the call went straight to voice mail. I left a message and subsequently emailed him the questions I had: Were Flynn and Powell paid? How much money in registration fees for the conference were generated? Where did the $8,000 for the baseball bat go? Sabal did not reply.
Sabal’s conference put into play a dangerous idea: support for a pro-Trump coup d’etat. And this notion was being legitimized by a man who once held one of the highest national security positions in the US government. (Later on, he said, “There is NO reason whatsoever for any coup in America.”) Lt. Col. Yevgeny “Eugene” Vindman, who was fired from his position in Trump’s National Security Council after he and his twin brother Alexander Vindman (who also worked at the NSC) expressed concerns about Trump’s impeachment-triggering dealings with Ukraine, tweeted, “With these seditious remarks Comrade Flynn may have crossed the line for recall to active duty and court-martial.” Referring to his position as a military lawyer, Eugene Vindman added, “As a JAG I’m qualified and also happy to prosecute this case.”
Was Flynn at the conference for the extremism? Or was he also profiting financially from this shindig? Sabal ain’t saying. And Flynn did not respond to a request for comment.
In the podcast interview, Sabal’s partner, a woman named Amy (whose last name was not provided), said that people were asking, “Why are you not charging more” for the conference? She remarked that she and Sabal intend to “make this an annual thing.” And Sabal revealed that he was talking to Flynn about turning these events into “a collaboration.” He added, “This is a business now. The Patriot Voice is a corporation.”